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Moving Beyond Control

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Someone wrote me:

I think that control is bad and that wanting to control everything in one's life is bad. Wanting to make things happen a certain way is cause for suffering and is an attachment. I got this from my dad who is a control freak and wants everything to work his way and he is constantly fighting for it and efforting his way at whatever endeavor he takes up. And he makes a lot of headway but at the end of it, things get screwed up and I guess I always saw his need to control the conditions in his life as cause for suffering.

However, I want to control things in my life. I want to control myself and break my bad habits. I want to make certain things happen a certain way. but there is resistance as I don't want to have to go through the suffering that comes with that need to control that I saw in my dad. I guess I feel that loss and suffering always follows that drive to make things happen and to control one's conditions in life.

I was hoping that you could help me reconcile one's ability to make things happen and to be the cause and effect of one's life without being afraid of the potential loss and suffering that may come from that.

And I responded:

Sorry to take a while to get back to you. Your question is a good one. It would be easier if there were a simple answer to the whole question of control. If trying to control was really just a bad thing, then we all would have given it up a long time ago!

But trying to control is a natural impulse because it works sometimes. It turns out that something only has to work sometimes in order for a behavior to be reinforced. In psychology, they call this an intermittent reward, and it is a more powerful reinforcement than a constant reward. So it is natural that we try to control things, even though it only occasionally works and therefore more often leads to wasted effort and even suffering.

The whole truth of control includes both the times it works and the times it doesn't. It includes the experiences of relative success and failure. We are both in control and out of control. That is the nature of duality on this level of reality. However, that is still not the whole truth about the experience of control.

If we are not completely in control, then what is? Is life really just a bunch of random events including the random interactions of a bunch of apparent beings with some free will all trying to control things, but only succeeding sometimes? Or is there also a bigger, wiser Presence that affects what happens? What if there is a Divine Intelligence that is unfolding life? Are we in control or out of control then?

There is a deeper wisdom that is behind all of the events of life. It knows what really needs to happen, and mostly manages to succeed. I say mostly because it is an aspect of our infinite, eternal nature and so it is not really in a hurry to get anywhere. It likes the surprises and twists and turns that apparent egos bring to the drama of life, so it lets them interfere to a degree. This is because it knows that no harm can really be done and also because it eventually finds a way to get where it is going anyways.

A friend of mine had one of those navigation systems in his car that spoke out loud and told you where to turn. I asked him what happens if you don't turn when it tells you to. He said that for a while it would try to get you to turn around and then turn where you should have. However, he also said that if you don't even do that, it would then calculate a whole new route to where you were headed and start giving you directions based on your having not turned. This deeper intelligence is like that. It lets you succeed or fail at trying to control things, and then it picks up from there and makes what really needs to happen happen.

So there is a dynamic interplay between the capacity of our ego to control things and the capacity of Being to control things. What a formula for surprises and mystery and drama! And then there are all of the other apparent people trying to control things also! What a crazy dance!

In seeing the bigger truth of our efforts to control, there can be a natural loosening of our grip on the steering wheel of life. Why try so hard to control everything when there are so many forces at play? You may not give up entirely, but it can put your efforts in perspective. They are natural, but they are not that important. You still can steer to the best of your ability, but then you let go of the results. Sometimes you get where you wanted to go and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you even end up somewhere better than where you wanted to go!

There is one more level to this question of control. In efforting, we sometimes succeed and sometimes fail, but we always develop our capacity for effort. If you think about it, weight lifters always ultimately fail: the weights always end up back where they started. But in lifting the weights up only to have gravity return them to the starting position again and again, they develop their muscle's capacity to lift weight.

Maybe the ego and all of its efforts at control are just a necessary developmental stage. Once it has gone as far as it can with its own efforts, it reaches a point where it can only go further by surrendering. And yet that is not something it can do. The ego can only experience the dilemma of its impulse to effort and its seeing of the futility of effort until something else moves that we call surrender. The development of our capacity to effort does not cause the surrender to happen, but it can allow us to stay with the experience until surrender happens.

When we effort to control things, we may not succeed and yet our inner capacity to focus and effort has been developed. As some point when we start to see the whole truth about control, then we may stop trying so hard to change what happens. But we can still use the capacity we have developed to be very present and profoundly aware of what is happening, including the moments when surrender arises. We can use our capacity to effort to be more present to what is. At first, it can seem odd to try to have things just the way they already are, but there is a richness that can be revealed when we actively engage our experience without trying to change it.

What is here beyond your own effort? What is here right now that does not need to be controlled? How is it to hold these questions with the same amount of effort you might have used to control things? Not necessarily to get an answer, but just because the questions are here. In just holding the questions without trying for an answer, another dimension of experience can sometimes be revealed that is full of peace, joy and love. This is not a place of no control or a place of control. it is something that opens up beyond the whole experience of control.

It is here that the suffering from our efforts to control is truly resolved into an enjoyment of the whole dance of our life. Loss is just one more twist and turn in the dance. Effort is just done for the sake of moving and dancing. There is nowhere to go and nowhere to not go, nothing to do and nothing to not do.

I hope this helps.

Two Paths to Love

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Someone emailed the following:

There is such a great need in me to be appreciated by other people, by my friends for example, and I am never satisfied. I never get enough appreciation, and because of that I suffer a lot. I can be so sweet and nice, giving my all attention to a person, but behind that is such a great need to be loved and appreciated. And once I get that feeling of being loved, I want it to repeat again. But then one part of me does not want to depend on the source of love and attention, so there is a big conflict. What can I do?

Here is my response:

This is a very good question. It is very difficult even when we clearly see our conditioning at work and how much suffering it causes to then just stop. So I would offer two suggestions to help you actually shift this way of acting and feeling.

The first possibility is to experiment with truly giving love to everything and everyone. True love is simply open acceptance or space, and a fullness of attention or noticing. What we really want from a lover is someone who completely lets us be the way we are, and yet who also wants to see and know everything about us. So I would suggest you give this quality of acceptance and noticing to everything you experience. It is easiest to start with neutral or pleasant things, and you can also start by practicing on simple objects. Notice a piece of furniture and then give it a lot of space to just be the way it is. Or you can notice that there is a lot of space for it already. And as you notice the space around the furniture, also notice everything you can about it. What are all of the qualities of that simple object? How does it reflect light? How does it feel if you can touch it? What are all of the specific details of its construction and appearance? Just shower it with attention and see if you can even notice subtle aspects of it that you never noticed before.

Then move onto another object and then another experience after that, perhaps the sound of the wind or sensation in your body. Again it is easiest to start with simple and neutral aspects of your experience and then gradually add in the more challenging things for you to experience, like an object that has a lot of negative associations or a sensation that you tend to not like. Finally you can experiment with giving this free flowing space and attention to other people.

As you do this you can notice how you feel. How does it feel to give the most precious thing you have, awareness, to other objects, sensations and people? Do you ever run out or can you just give and give simple awareness and then still have more to give? Even if you come up against something you cannot love in this way, then you can simply give love to the sensation inside you of being blocked or resistant. The only trick is to give love to whatever you are experiencing even if it is a judgment or feeling of resistance. Accept and notice your judgment of the other person, and then you may find you can go on to simply notice and accept the person also.

In this way you can discover that all of the love that you want from others is already here inside of you. We are filled with love when we give it to others and not when we receive it from others. But to really trust this, you must have many experiences of this limitless flow of love.

The other surprising suggestion is to also really feel the lack of love inside of you. Even when you know that you can give and give love and more love, there will still be moments where you do not experience the flow of love. In those moments, what you experience is the empty source of love. The place all of this love comes from inside of you is completely empty. And so we tend not to want to feel it as it does not seem very promising to feel something so dry and empty. And yet what is that empty space you have been trying to fill up with attention from others actually like? Is it dark or bright? Is it heavy or light? Is it clear or foggy or obscured somehow? How deep is the emptiness? Can you find a bottom to it?

This emptiness at your core is the source of everything that really matters in life: love, peace, joy, wisdom, clarity, strength, and ultimately satisfaction and existence itself. What a surprising place to find everything you ever wanted: in the emptiness at your core. And yet that is the only place you will ever be satisfied from. It is by discovering everything about this emptiness, every quality it has, every nuance of its expression, that we can finally be content. You will never be done discovering its endless nature, but at some point you will be able to trust that everything that really matters is already here inside of you.

By returning again and again to the emptiness, you keep your attention on the true source of what you seek. Sometimes you find an even deeper sense of emptiness when you look within yourself, but then is emptiness really a bad sensation? Or is it just empty? Does emptiness ever really hurt? How can "nothing" ever hurt?

And other times when you look within you will discover one of these precious qualities of your Being arising like love, peace or joy. What a surprising place to find them! It is by returning again and again to your own empty nature that you finally learn to trust that you have all that you need, and you do not need to look for it from others.

Your seeking of love from the outside is an old habit that you were taught to do by everyone around you who was doing the same thing. The best way to counteract an old habit that no longer serves you is to develop a new habit or even several new habits that work even better than the old one. In this case, the new habits are to give love to everything and to look within the emptiness at your core. Once you have done this often enough for it to be even more of a habit than the old way of trying to get love from others, then check if you have enough love, and enough peace, acceptance and joy. The true source of these things is within you.

Problems Aren't Solved by Thinking About Them

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Here is another guest post from my wife, Gina Lake (read more on her blog at radicalhappiness.com):

When we have a problem, it tends to pop up in our mind many times a day. We worry about it and try to figure out what to do. But thinking about our problems is mostly thinking about what might happen in the future: We wonder, "What's going to happen and how will it affect me?" The trouble with these kinds of thoughts is that there are no answers to these questions-until there are-no matter how hard we think about the so-called problem. These answers and the solution to whatever problem we think we have is revealed over time, in the course of life unfolding, and this course of unfolding can't be rushed. The answers to our questions about our problems are revealed in their own time, and we have little influence on the timing of this.

The mind doesn't like the fact that we can't always know what to do immediately or how things will work out, and it pushes to know what to do and what will happen before it's possible to know this. Sometimes the mind makes up answers just to know, and then it pretends to know what to do and what will happen. That is usually how the mind approaches any problem. But problems are always resolved in time. It is the nature of life to move on and for things to change. So problems and problematic situations naturally change, often without doing anything about them but responding naturally to the situation as needed. We do what needs to be done as that presents itself.

Solutions are often discovered intuitively, as they pop into our mind: We suddenly know what we need to do about a situation. And we may wonder why we didn't see the answer sooner! But that's how it is in life: We don't know until we do. And all our protests about this and struggling to know can't change this fact. A common example is a health problem: We may live with it for years, and then suddenly we run across some information about it that gives us the solution or explanation we were looking for.

Sometimes we aren't meant to find answers to our problems. Some problem may be serving a purpose in catalyzing our growth or pointing us in a new direction. It's difficult to see this when it is happening, but often years down the road the blessing of having that experience becomes clear to us. Even if it doesn't, we can trust that our so-called problems serve us in some way, if not only to create the suffering that ultimately shows us that we were the creator of that suffering all along and didn't actually have a problem, except the problem we created by thinking about something in a particular way.

An example of this is that we may feel our relationship is problematic. We're unhappy and we don't know what to do about it. Then we discover that we are creating our own suffering and a sense of there being a problem by the demands we're making on our partner to be different, instead of just accepting him or her and allowing that person and the relationship to be the way it is.

The egoic mind comes up with all sorts of things it doesn't like, and these become problems. But is it really a problem that you don't like something? What if you decided it was okay to not like something? Or what if you decided that you didn't need to change something just because you didn't like it? That's called acceptance-you accept something you don't like just because you decide to accept it rather than focus on not liking it and making it into a problem. Or what if you decided that you liked it instead of the opposite?

Thinking about our problems doesn't help. It only makes it impossible to enjoy life as it is showing up. And if you look closely, you will also realize that without your thoughts about a situation, there is no problem. All problems are simply defined as such by the mind. What if you didn't listen to the mind's worries, fears, and perspectives on life? Living in the Now is a place of freedom from such thoughts. Life is still handled, problems are still solved, but with much more peace and joy. Life doesn't have to be so hard!


Gina Lake is a spiritual teacher who is devoted to helping others wake up and live in the moment through her books, counseling, and intensives. She has a master's degree in counseling psychology and over twenty years experience supporting people in their spiritual growth as an astrologer and a channel, with a focus on helping people find and fulfill their life purpose. Her books include Loving in the Moment, Radical Happiness, Embracing the Now, Anatomy of Desire, Return to Essence, What About Now? Living in the Now, and Getting Free. Her website offers information about her books and consultations, free ebooks, book excerpts, a free monthly newsletter, a blog, and audio and video recordings: http://www.radicalhappiness.com.


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